The Tipping Point
First Appeared in The Music Box, September 2004, Volume 11, #9
Written by John Metzger
In comparison with its previous efforts, The Roots’ latest endeavor The Tipping Point is a simplistic, no-frills affair that serves as an attempt by the ensemble to get back to basic hip-hop grooves without losing the artistic credibility that it has amassed over the course of its five previous outings. Indeed, the one criticism that consistently has been lobbed at the group has been in regard to its inability to capture within the recording studio the loose, freewheeling sound of its concerts. While The Roots’ new effort undoubtedly is designed to correct this perceived deficiency, it is only partially successful, and even then it comes at the expense of the band’s more adventurous and intriguing inclinations. As a result, the final product is an uneven collection that sparkles as frequently as it falls flat.
At its best, The Tipping Point is positively brilliant, though the album also suffers from the notorious industry practice of front-loading. On the opening track Star, The Roots offers a commentary on America’s celebrity culture, reality television, and the news media. Even better is the manner in which the group seamlessly fuses a sample of Sly and the Family Stone’s Everybody Is a Star into its own heady swirl of shimmering rhythms to create a neo-soul masterpiece that innovatively reinvents the original tune by turning it into a magnificent hip-hop anthem. Sadly, everything that follows is somewhat of a letdown, although there are a few other nuggets worth savoring, such as the reggae-tinged Guns Are Drawn and the jazzy, Al Hirt-splattered Stay Cool. The bulk of the effort, however, is comprised of solid, if lesser, grooves that just don’t allow the band to distinguish itself from the myriad of other hip-hop collectives on the market. In short, there’s a fine line between accessible and generic, and The Roots are struggling to straddle it.
Thematically, The Tipping Point is significantly more ambitious. Taking its title from Malcolm Gladwell’s best-selling exposition on the theories of information dispersal, the collection lays out a laundry list of problems facing the world — from the Iraq war to the salary gap between the rich and the poor, and from the loss of civil liberties to globalization — while urging The Roots’ fans to effect change by reminding them that the only way that things will improve is if they stop partying long enough to create a new reality. The problem, however, is that while the group was busy pursuing a noble cause, it lost sight of the need to surround its words with music that would inspire action or that more than a few diehard hip-hop fans would want to play repeatedly. Consequently, the set is unlikely to lead the charge towards that pivotal socio-political moment simply because the album doesn’t have the transcendent appeal of U2’s All That You Can’t Leave Behind (or Arrested Development’s 3 Years, 5 Months, and 2 Days in the Life of..., for that matter). Granted, The Tipping Point is far more focused than The Roots’ previous efforts — containing nothing that feels like filler within the collection’s 10 primary tracks and 2 bonus selections — but it’s also not the picture-perfect cultural phenomenon that the ensemble undoubtedly hoped to create. ½
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1 Star: Pitiful
2 Stars: Listenable
3 Stars: Respectable
4 Stars: Excellent
5 Stars: Can't Live Without It!!
Copyright © 2004 The Music Box